Dr. Amy Randel has been part of the SMBA family for several years teaching one of our core classes, Organizational Behavior. As a former student-athlete (volleyball), she connects with us through her love for sports. Dr. Randel graduated from the esteemed Brown University with a degree in Psychology, and then proceeded to earn her Ph.D. in Management from the University of California, Irvine. She is an accomplished author who has award-winning publications in a number of select academic journals. In addition, Dr. Randel sits on the editorial board for the Journal of Organizational Behavior. In our interview, she shares with us her love for teaching, her research interests, her experiences as a collegiate athlete, and the valuable lessons she hopes her SMBA students can take from her teachings.
Stephanie Kimberling: Thank you so much for taking the time to interview for our blog. I think a good question to open with is: What do you find most rewarding about teaching?
Amy Randel: That’s a great question. It’s always super rewarding when I see students nodding when something clicks or when they see something they haven’t thought of before. I also love it when students come back or send an email and say, “I was at work and something you said came to mind,” or “I was in this situation and I remember what you said about what I should do…” I feel like if I’ve changed someone’s perspective or how they approach things in their job or their life – if I’ve made an impact on someone in some way – it’s really rewarding.
SK: I bet. When something you say really resonates with students – I find that really rewarding about teaching. It goes beyond just monetary rewards.
As an OB professor, how do you think organizational behavior is an integral piece to the success of an organization?
AR: I really believe that organizational behavior is something that is going to be applicable to anyone in any line of sports, or any industry for that matter, because no matter what you’re doing you’re dealing with people. You’re either trying to motivate a team, or trying to reach clients, or lead people in some fashion. Even if you’re at the bottom of the totem pole, you still have to influence people and work with people. So no matter where you are in the organization, I think organization behavior is important and relevant to everyone. I believe it’s everywhere you look and is involved with everything you do in a company whether it’s in finance, marketing, accounting, representing players – whatever it may be, you’re using it.
SK: I agree. It’s something we deal with on a day-to-day basis in so many different settings.
You have SMBAs participate in an Organizational Analysis Project. What key takeaways would you like your students to get from this?
AR: There’s a lot I’d like students to get out of that. First of all, I’m hoping that it makes a lot of the concepts and things that we’re talking about throughout the course really come alive and you can see how they apply to a real sports-related organization. I think it can also be a really valuable lesson in terms of trying to provide value to an organization. So in my mind it’s not just an assignment, it’s something where you need to use critical thinking skills, analytical skills, and diagnostic skills. All those things together to really be like, “What can we tell an organization that they don’t already know?” I think that whole process really helps students in how to approach a problem and how to address it, and you can use that in whatever you do going forward. And then of course it touches on presentation skills and working in teams. To me, it really embodies a lot of things that are not only important to the class but also to people’s professional success.
SK: It’s very relevant and applicable, and also a good networking opportunity.
AR: Yes! I think it gives you connections in the workplace and I’ve also had students tell me they feel like they got internships or even jobs based on saying, “I’ve gone through this exercise…” Not everyone that has gone through an MBA program has actually dealt with survey data that has been collected for them and for a specific purpose where they follow through with it by providing consulting for a company. So I think that being able to say you’ve been involved in and have worked with the qualitative-quantitative piece related to what employees’ perceptions and attitudes are gives you all a really competitive advantage.
SK: So have you actually heard any feedback from these companies or has anyone come back and said, “Wow, you really did pinpoint something that we had no idea about!”
AR: Absolutely. I’ve had companies say, “Wow this was really interesting, it has really helped us to figure out what to do next.” You know, it’s free consulting. Organizations have said that this project has provided them with insight as to the way they can deal with some issues and improve.
SK: I think that’s a great way to get the practical application aspect of all the concepts we’re learning in class.
As far as research is concerned, it seems you have an array of interests ranging from identity in organizations to cross-cultural management. In which areas are you most interested and what has led you to these interests?
AR: I see my core research interests as having to do with diversity and identity, usually in teams. When I say diversity and identity I’m referring to what people bring with them to a team and how that impacts things that go on within the team. When I think back, these interests really do relate to sports. When I think about the teams I’ve been a part of, that was kind of the genesis of it all. And then when I went to work in organizations or have worked in teams in school, I can see that connection between how teams come together and how the dynamics of those teams work. I think about, “What does each person bring to the table?” and “How does that impact the way people interact with each other?” From that, I have also become more interested in creativity because creativity has a lot to do with why we have teams. A lot of times we have teams to do something unique and useful, and if you have a diverse team, you have a diverse team to be creative. So the core areas that I have been focusing on are that diversity-identity idea and then how it relates to creativity. A lot of my interests relate to those core areas.
SK: Your research has been published in several highly regarded academic journals. Which piece of work are you most proud of?
AR: It may not be the highest ranked of my publications but it’s one where people have read it the most or have cited it a lot and have said, “Wow, that’s really true.” The one I guess I’m most proud of, in a sense, is one that came out of my dissertation and it says: Instead of looking at diversity within a team just in terms of what you check off on a demographic page of a survey such as “What is your race?” or “What is your gender?” it was more about taking a look and seeing how relevant those things are to someone. For instance, someone might check off that they are of a certain race but maybe that person doesn’t give it a second thought. But for someone else it might be a really core part of who they are and it really impacts how they want to be perceived and how they do things at work. So I kind of question that whole idea of – let’s take a step back and say it’s not just what categories in which one can claim membership. Instead, first of all, what is most important to you? And second of all, what is most salient to you?
SK: I absolutely agree. Oftentimes the impact of identity and salience is taken-for-granted and goes overlooked when in reality they are very influential and relevant to group dynamics.
Moving from academics to athletics, what are some of the highlights of your collegiate athletic experience?
AR: Well I have to say it would be my sophomore year. We won the Ivy League Championship for volleyball. And we were NOT expected to win; we were the underdogs. I remember the moment when we won and the look on the other teams’ faces like “OH my goodness. What just happened?!” We just played out of our minds and that feeling of everything we did just worked. It was a great feeling that everything came together.
SK: That’s awesome. How has being a former athlete helped shape the person you are today?
AR: In many ways, I think you could say in terms of things like time management and discipline, you know, coming to work when you’re sick … to even some of my career choices or my research interests that I think are impacted by sports. I had a coach in high school who was California Coach of the Year for any sport for five years in a row. She was very much into sports psychology, which I think kind of sparked my interest in psychology and I kind of went from there. I think sports have really had more of an impact than I may have thought at face value. The people that have impacted me have oftentimes come from sports and that has been reflected in my decisions.
SK: I can definitely relate to that. I find that sometimes I didn’t even realize certain events or people had influenced me in such a way and then I reflect back and think, “Wow, so that’s the path that led me there.” In retrospect, a lot of the decisions I’ve made are related to people in sports or what happened on the field.
OK, I’ll wrap up by asking: What is the most valuable piece of advice anyone has ever given you? Is there something you would like to pass along to your students that you wish someone told you?
AR: That’s a great question. I think people should do what they love to do and not what they think they should do. And I think that excellence and success come when you’re doing what you love. You want to tell people to give it their all and do their best, but I think that comes a lot easier when you love what you do. This is probably the reason why a lot of people in the Sports MBA program are here!
SK: You’re absolutely right. Many of us have left behind good jobs to redirect focus onto something we love! And it’s totally worth it.